A Slice of Home for Kanter at Turkish Festival

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

It took seven days for the baklava to travel the 6,147 miles from Istanbul to downtown Oklahoma City, but for Thunder center Enes Kanter, it was well worth the wait. At the Turkish Food and Art Festival on Saturday, Kanter joined 5,000 Oklahomans as they celebrated Turkey and its culture, music, food and art at the Myriad Gardens.

Kanter, alongside Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti, helped cut the ceremonial ribbon. The fifth-year post player then spoke to the crowd, thanking Oklahoma City for welcoming him with open arms from the moment he joined the Thunder. He also signed autographs, took photos and mingled with the local citizens. From kebabs to Turkish delight, there was plenty to taste, which may have been the most important part of the day for Kanter.

“I’m really excited, this is the first time I’ve been a part of it,” Kanter beamed. “I can eat some Turkish food and get some Turkish coffee and Turkish tea. We’re going to see some Turkish art.”

Ersan Demirici, the director of the Raindrop Foundation- an educational, charitable, social and cultural non-profit- explained that there are about 500 Turkish Americans in Oklahoma City and that the annual festival has grown steadily over the past seven years. This year, the Raindrop Foundation had to move the event to Myriad Gardens in order to host such a large crowd.

Kanter got connected with Demirici and the Raindrop Foundation a few years back when he was playing against the Thunder, so when he joined Oklahoma City, he immediately had some familiar faces around him. Since then, he’s tried to support as many Turkish-American activities in Oklahoma City as possible.

“It’s a blast,” Demirici said. “People like different cultures in Oklahoma City. There’s interest in Turkish culture. It’s amazing. People love the food, art and culture. It’s growing day by day.”

“Everyone is so excited to have Enes and Enes is excited to be here because we have a family environment here for Enes,” Demirici explained. “We try to help him and he tries to attend every single event that we host. He’s an amazing guy. He’s a down to earth person.”

Although it’s halfway across the world, Oklahoma City has doubled as a home away from home for Kanter so far, and he seemed right in his element as he checked out the Turkish art and food filling the various tents on the lawn. Repeatedly, Kanter has spoken about his admiration for how the Thunder and the people in Oklahoma City have celebrated and received him, hoping to learn as much about his personal history and Turkish culture.

Events like the festival on Saturday only solidify Kanter’s ability to share his experience with the people who cheer him on at Chesapeake Energy Arena or watch the Thunder on television each night.   

“It’s amazing,” Kanter said. “People come and are with the Turkish community. It’s important to me and these kind of events bring us together and leave our differences on the table. This event is really important to me because I see the people from different cities. That’s what it’s all about to bring everyone together.” 

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